March 22, 2017

A New Definition Would Add 102 Planets to Our Solar System — Including Pluto (Source: Washington Post)
In a giant exhibit hall crowded with his colleagues, he's attempting to reignite the debate about Pluto's status with an audacious new definition for planet — one that includes not just Pluto, but several of its neighbors, objects in the asteroid belt, and a number of moons. By his count, 102 new planets could be added to our solar system under the new criteria.

“It's a scientifically useful bit of nomenclature and, I think, given the psychological power behind the word planet, it’s also more consumable by the general public,” Runyon said. “A classification has to be useful, or else it’s just lipstick on a pig,” countered planetary scientist Carolyn Porco. Runyon's definition “is not useful at all.” The debate rages on. Click here. (3/20)

Market Innovation Driving CubeSats into the Mainstream (Source: Via Satellite)
Some of the world’s most exciting space developments are occurring in a small form factor: CubeSats. Backed by strong commercial funding and more launch availability, CubeSats are no longer just the domain of academic learning experiments; they are becoming core to government and commercial missions. The era of CubeSat 2.0 has arrived. Click here. (3/21)

Vector to Announce Cape Canaveral Launch Plans (Source: Florida Today)
An Arizona startup developing a rocket for launches of small satellites this weekend will announce plans to launch missions to orbit from Cape Canaveral, Space Florida said. Vector Space Systems on Saturday will erect a test version of its Vector-R "micro-launcher" at Launch Complex 46, a vehicle that will then go on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. CEO Jim Cantrell also “will announce the intention of the company to use the launch facilities in the future,” according to Space Florida.

The two-stage Vector-R stands 42 feet tall and is designed to deliver microsatellites weighing up to about 135 pounds to orbit. The rocket is expected to debut in 2018, flying up to six times. The company eventually envisions launching 100 or more times a year. The two-stage Vector-R — the "R" is short for Rapid — stands 42 feet tall and measures 42 inches around, and is designed to deliver micro-satellites weighing up to about 135 pounds to orbit.

Several companies are developing small rockets to meet what they project will be a burgeoning demand for launches of small satellites. Rocket Lab's Electron rocket is expected to start launching this year from New Zealand. Cape Canaveral-based Moon Express hopes to fly on an Electron late this year. Virgin Galactic also is developing a small satellite launcher and counts OneWeb Satellites among its customers. Another startup in the same launch market, Texas-based Firefly Space Systems, shut down last year. Editor's Note: And don't forget Rocket Crafters. (3/21)

Russia’s Space Program Is Struggling Mightily (Source: Slate)
The Russian space program doesn’t get a lot of great press these days. The big news is not Russia but the rise of a new generation of players—from countries such as China and India making ambitious advances to billionaires such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos aiming for the moon and Mars. And even when the Russian space program makes the headlines, it’s often been for less-than-stellar news.

It’s not just the headlines. Many space policy analysts, too, are counting out the country that gave us Sputnik, at least in terms of breaking new ground. As the founder of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute, John Logsdon, noted, “Their budget is not adequate to maintain a world-class space effort across the board.”

Despite being the only game in town as far as regular human access to space, Roscosmos has been plagued by serious problems that don’t bode well for the future. To get a sense of the challenges it faces these days, it’s worth revisiting how the country’s position in space declined so dramatically from its Soviet glory days. (3/21)

Calls Grow for the Creation of a Kuwaiti Space Agency (Source: SpaceWatch)
The case for the creation of a Kuwaiti space agency is growing with prominent Kuwaiti scientists advocating that the Gulf kingdom consider the merits of establishing a formal entity to deal with space issues. Quoted in the Kuwait Times, scientist Dr. Hala Al-Jassar, an Assistant Professor in the Physics Department at Kuwait University, said that Kuwait has all of the necessary requirements and resources – to include human capital – needed to create a Kuwaiti national space agency.

“We have the budget, the talents, the expertize, and outstanding graduates from the best universities,” she told the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA). Dr. Jassar said that clear leadership is required from the Kuwaiti government to establish a space agency, though she also points out that even without a national entity for space policy and programs, Kuwaiti universities are already doing a lot in space.  (3/21)

Space Tourism Companies Will Write Their Own Safety Rules Because the US Government Can’t (Source: Quartz)
Within a year, says Blue Origin, it will begin flying humans to the edge of space. That would grant the company, founded by Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, a symbolic victory over competitors like SpaceX, Boeing and Virgin Galactic, who are also pursuing plans to fly paying passengers beyond earth’s atmosphere.

The inaugural flights of these new ventures will be a leap into the unknown for the passengers, not least because they won’t benefit from the tight regulation we’ve come to expect in everything from air transport to private automobiles. The first spaceflight participants will be guinea pigs in an experiment that asks: Just what does it mean to be safe in space when the government isn’t in charge?

Technically, the FAA does have jurisdiction over any space launches by US citizens and companies. But when it comes to human spaceflight, the law is designed to give companies as wide a latitude as possible to develop their technology. The Commercial Space Act allows the government to make safety rules for paying space passengers only if it is acting to prohibit a design or practice that has already “resulted in a serious or fatal injury” or “posed a high risk of causing a serious or fatal injury” in a previous flight. (3/21)

Pence Confirms Plans to Reestablish the National Space Council (Source: Space News)
Vice President Mike Pence said March 21 that he expects the Trump administration to reestablish the National Space Council, a move that has the backing of a key member of Congress. Pence mentioned the National Space Council at the end of a signing ceremony at the White House for the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017, an event attended by members of Congress, NASA astronauts and NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot.

“In very short order, the president will be taking action to re-launch the National Space Council,” Pence said. “He’s asked me to chair that, as vice presidents have in the past, and we’re going to be bringing together the best and the brightest in NASA and also in the private sector.” Trump nodded as Pence spoke and said, “Right.” (3/21)

Alabama [and Florida] Lawmakers Join NASA Bill Ceremony (Source: Montgomer Advertiser)
Surrounded by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including two from Alabama, President Donald Trump signed a $19.5 billion bill Tuesday to fund NASA programs and reaffirm what he called a "national commitment" to "human space exploration." Trump also hailed the nation's "heroic" and "amazing" astronauts, including those "who have lost their lives" over the decades.

"America's space program has been a blessing to our people and to the entire world," Trump said. The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 authorizes funding for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Last week, the Trump team proposed a budget that would reduce NASA to $19.1 billion for the year after that.

The Oval Office crowd also included two former Republican primary rivals of Trump, senators from states heavily invested in NASA: Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas. They and other members of Congress praised the plan. Also included in the ceremony was Florida Rep. Bill Posey, and Sen. Bill Nelson, who traveled into space in 1986 aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia. (3/21)

Breakthrough Starshot's Interstellar Sail Works Best As a Ball (Source:
The Breakthrough Starshot initiative, announced last year, has one very ambitious goal: to use high-powered lasers to launch a tiny, lightweight space probe toward our solar system's nearest star, Alpha Centauri, which is located roughly 4 light-years away. Until now, illustrations depicting this concept show the probe tethered behind a parachute-shaped sail launched into interstellar space by a single, but powerful, laser beam.

But new research indicates that this design is too unstable. If the parachute tilts even a little bit, it could fly off the beam — and way off course — dragging the probe along with it, the scientists say. The optimal design? A tiny ball nestled among four laser beams. Breakthrough Starshot team member Zachary Manchester. (3/21)

Russia, China Could Cooperate on Developing Reusable Rockets (Source: Sputnik)
China has not yet decided on the basic design of its returning rocket. What is known is that the scheme used in SpaceX is not being taken into consideration, as it will be a different technology. One reason for that is that China sees the US design as flawed in its excessive consumption of fuel and payload.

“As far as we can judge, we are talking about a resumption of the Baikal program, which was being developed in the 1990s,” Kashin said. According to the expert, Baikal was supposed to be a part of a launch vehicle equipped with aircraft wings. After the completion of the launch and separation from the rocket Baikal was supposed to fly as an ordinary aircraft and make a landing at an airfield.

“In Russia, there is some experience in the development of returning systems due to the legacy of the Soviet program on the reusable space shuttle, Buran, which was capable of automatic flight and an automatic landing,” Kashin said. The expert further said that the development of such systems could probably become another area of Russian-Chinese cooperation as the cosmos is turning into one of the many spheres of military confrontation right before our eyes. (3/21)

The Moon Could Have its Own Mobile Data Network as Soon as Next Year (Source: WIRED)
A European group of scientists has announced plans to be the first commercial company to land on the Moon, with a launch expected next year. Part Time Scientists, or PTScientists, hopes to send a pair of small rovers to the final landing site of the US Apollo program. The rovers will hitch a ride on Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

The Berlin-based company announced it has also partnered with Vodafone to work on the first mobile data station on the Moon, which will provide a way for lunar rovers to communicate with Earth. “This is a crucial first step for sustainable exploration of the solar system,” said Robert Boehme, CEO of PTScientists. “In order for humanity to leave the cradle of Earth, we need to develop infrastructures beyond our home planet. With 'Mission to the Moon' we will establish and test the first elements of a dedicated communications network on the Moon.”

A lunar lander, called Alina, will double up as a communications base station, helping manned missions to the Moon. The station will use LTE technology, which is already used in a billion mobile devices on Earth. LTE uses less energy than traditional radio communications. This means, the company hopes, large amounts of data can be transferred from rovers to Earth, via ALINA, without draining their batteries. (3/21)

Managers Say Orion Can Be Ready For Crew In 2019 (Source: Aerospace Daily)
Lockheed Martin engineering managers in charge of developing the Orion crew capsule for NASA say the vehicle planned for an unmanned three-week mission in lunar orbit next year could be ready for an eight-day lunar flyaround with two astronauts on board before the end of 2019. (3/21)

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